Making AWP Your Own

It’s time again for the annual AWP conference and dozens if not hundreds of blog posts and articles are popping up everywhere offering advice on how best to network, navigate, or otherwise survive the three-day write-a-palooza.

And for good reason.

With 20-30 panels occurring simultaneously at any given moment and hundreds of tables and booths offering all types of free swag and publishing advice during the day and dozens of on-sight and off-sight readings, signings, and parties at night (not to mention hotel room gatherings), AWP is something like a child’s wildest Christmas fantasy, provided that child is a writer who spends most of the rest of the year isolated or with her nose in a book (or grading papers).

This level of stimulation can overwhelm the new-comer and quiet-at-heart, or trigger a kind of high for the more gregarious, extroverted go-getters among us.

Which is exactly the nature of AWP. It is both exciting and overwhelming, humbling and empowering, energizing and draining, and many things in between, too, so you might as well make the kinds of choices that are meaningful to you.

Putting friends first, for example. You know, those people who comprise your literary community, both now and in the future. The ones who hold your hand when you receive a string of rejections and the ones who celebrate your successes, whatever the size, with glee? Friends who help you maintain perspective and are quick to buy you a drink when its lost? They are, after all, the reason you are here at all.

Or attending panels because their subject matter seems genuinely interesting to you, not just because you want to meet the people facilitating or presenting (unless they are your friend, of course; then attend in a show of support). It’s pretty hard to make a meaningful connection at most panels, anyway. Might as well have some integrity.

And speaking of integrity, remember to look at a person’s face before checking out their name badge. You can’t truly know how important you may become to one another until you spend time with, and get to know, one another. Choose meaningful connections over superficial.

AWP is all about over doing it, so go ahead, but remember your career is worthless without your health, so take care of yourself, too.

  • Drink plenty of  water, especially if you are relying on caffeine and alcohol for energy.
  • Stop in for a daily restorative Yoga for Writers session at 9am and/or 12pm in room 10 of the convention center.
  • Attend a daily 12-step meeting at 7:30 am or 6:30 pm in room 11 of the convention center (everyone is recovering from something).
  • Get outside for fresh air and take a nice walk (while being aware of your surroundings).
  • Collect your thoughts in the Dickinson Quiet Space, rooms 32 & 32, fourth floor of the convention center.
  • Fuel yourself with the best food you can manage (pack whole foods, avoid fast foods).
  • Plan a non-conference activity (lots to do in Tampa).
  • Wash your hands frequently.

The best way to avoid the post-AWP crud, or any crud at all, is to pay attention to your limits. While it’s true you will be around a lot of germs, it is also true that you are always around a lot of germs. Becoming run-down is what allows them a chance to infiltrate and attack your weakened immune system. Stay strong. Stay healthy.

Network wisely and sustainably. Don’t take it personally because your connection looks past you when someone more famous shows up nearby. Likewise, don’t break your connection with someone just because someone you think is famous appears behind them.

And when it comes to meeting famous people, just be cool.


  • Be sure to visit small press tables. They need and want your work more than the big guys. Some of them may even become a big press someday, and you will have been with them from the start. All of them are important.
  • Have real conversations. Finding an editor you mesh with, who likes your work and supports you, is invaluable.
  • Stop by booths and tables of the journals who have published you. Tell them thanks!
  • Like all disciplines, the literary world has it’s share of assholes. You don’t have to be one of them.

AWP is all about fanning ambition, making smart connections, and furthering your career. Don’t leave your heart, mind, or soul behind.

And Happy Conferencing!

(And here’s a peek into what we were all up to this time last year: AWP Poets, Writers Plan Protest in DC)


2 thoughts on “Making AWP Your Own

  1. atenni

    Thank you so much for this guide to surviving/enjoying the AWP Conference. It sounds both wonderful and awful to me, but your smart tips are almost as comforting at rooming with and trailing someone who knows the ropes. I’ll give it more consideration next year.


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